Monday, October 10, 2011

Bamboo and More’s 1st anniversary

Today is Bamboo and More’s 1st anniversary. My first post, “Moving black bamboo,” appeared on October 10, 2010. I can’t believe a year has gone by. Even harder to believe is the fact that I published 340 posts in the last 365 days. Not bad, considering my original goal had been three posts a week!

Queen of the night (Cereus hildmannianus ssp. hildmannianus)

Here are some interesting statistics, courtesy of Blogger:

Total number of posts: 340

Total number of comments left by readers: 1004

Phyllostachys vivax ‘Aureocaulis’

Most popular posts:

1. Portland Japanese Garden: Design
2. Wonderful and wacky succulent containers
3. Another morning walk
4. Portland Japanese Garden: Ornaments
5. Three aeoniums

Abutilon x ‘Souvenir de Bonn’

Day with the most hits: October 4.

My two-part post about the open house of Succulent Gardens nursery in Castroville, CA generated a lot of interest, especially among Facebook fans of Succulent Gardens.

Joshua Tree National Park

Countries with the most page views:

Not surprisingly, most blog readers are from the United States, followed by the United Kingdom. The #3 country is a big surprise: the Ukraine. Who knows why? Australia, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and India round out the top ten.

Phyllostachys nigra

Most frequently used Google search keywords:

1. bamboo muhly
2. ghost plant
3. graptopetalum paraguayense
4. echium wildpretii
5. borinda fungosa

Interesting that only #5 refers to an actual bamboo!

Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)

My favorite posts:

This is hard since obviously I try to write about stuff that interests me, but I feel these posts were particularly special:

1. Queen of the night posts (1 2 3 4)
2. Visit to Tradewinds Bamboo Nursery, Gold Beach, OR
3. Mount Shasta Lavender Farms
4. Sacramento Valley from the air
5. Trip to the Southern California desert (1 2 3 4 5)

Western salsify (Tragopogon dubius)

My favorite photos:

I love taking photos and I try to illustrate my posts as lavishly as I can. Some of my favorite photos taken over the past 12 months can be seen on this page.

Mount Shasta Lavender Farm

What I feel I did right:

My posts have been a pretty complete diary of the goings-on in our garden. Not just the things we accomplished, but also what the plants themselves did—when they leaved out, produced shoots, flowered, etc. as the case may be. I’m very happy with how I covered the past 12 months.

By including many photos, I hope that I managed to keep your interest and maybe even inspire you to try a plant or two you’d never grown before—just as I have been inspired by the many other gardening blogs I follow.

Mammillaria microhelia

What I feel needs improvement:

I need to take more “big picture” photos. I feel that I focus too much on plant details—leaves, flowers—and not show enough photos of, say, the garden bed or area that I talk about. Panoramic photos are the best for this purpose, and I do make a concerted effort to include them as much as I can.

I want to include more links to other blogs I read regularly. There’s so much great information out there, I want to help my readers discover other bloggers I find interesting. The more of a true network we create, the more all of us can learn.

Puya alpestris

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Ruth Bancroft Garden fall plant sale

Fall plant sale season is continuing here in Northern California. This morning, October 8th, I made the 1-hour drive to Walnut Creek in the East Bay for Ruth Bancroft Garden’s fall sale. Ruth Bancroft Garden (RBG) is one of the most fantastic gardens in Northern California, especially if you’re interested in succulents and drought-tolerant plants. While succulents make up a large part of their collection, trees and shrubs form the backbone against which the succulents can shine. In a future post I will focus on those trees and shrubs, including palms, acacias, eucalyptus, and many others.

I arrived a few minutes before 9am, just in time to enjoy an excellent cup of complimentary coffee before the sale started. As you can see in the next few photos, there were many sale tables, grouped by plant category such as cacti, aloes, agaves, groundcovers, California natives, shrubs and trees, and so forth. In addition, heirloom iris rhizomes from Ruth Bancroft’s private garden were for sale. (Ruth, by the way, is 103 years old now and is still involved in making garden decisions.)

The green gazebo that serves as the entrance to the garden is called “Ruth’s Folly”
Looking towards Ruth’s Folly
The tables covered with green tablecloths contained silent auction items, including choice plants from Ruth Bancroft's private nursery

My first stop was at the cactus table. There were several beautiful specimens that caught my eye, and I toyed with the idea of buying the fantastic clump of Mammillaria bombycina shown in the 2nd photo below. I decided to mull it over for a little while, and by the time I came back it was gone. I’m sure somebody is very happy with their purchase!

Cactus table with some very tempting specimen
Mammillaria bombycina—a good price at $25 for what is essentially a mature clump
Astrophytum ornatum, also known as star cactus. This is the largest potted specimen of this Central Mexican native I’ve ever seen. I have a very small one I bought this spring at the Living Desert in Palm Desert, CA.
4-foot specimen of Opuntia robusta. This prickly pear has enormous pads that are virtually free of spines and glochids. A beautiful plant, but too tender for Davis.
Not a cactus, but a medusoid euphorbia from Africa. No species given, but probably Euphorbia flanaganii. I almost bought this one, but my funds were limited after last weekend’s Extravaganza at Succulent Gardens.

I completely bypassed the aloe table this time since I’d bought a couple of aloes during the RBG spring sale and a stunning Kelly Griffin hybrid at the UC Davis Arboretum sale just a few weeks ago. But the agave table was irresistible. While I already have many of the smaller species that were offered for sale (like Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ seen on the left in the next photo), there was one agave I’d never encountered before: dwarf butterfly agave (Agave isthmensis).

Agave table
Agave isthmensis, also called “dwarf butterfly agave.” Forms clumps with each rosette to 1 ft. From the southern coast of Oaxaca, Mexico, and hence used to a fairly tropical climate. Hardy to 26°F. The bud imprints on the leaves are phenomenal. Needless to say I bought one.

The groundcover table had a great selection of succulents ranging from iceplants to sedums. The range of foliage textures and colors is impressive, and I made a mental note to find exposed spots in our succulent beds that I can fill with low-growing species. I’ll definitely have a shopping list ready for RBG’s spring sale!

Groundcover succulents, left side of the table…
…and right side

While I didn’t photograph the tables with shrubs and California natives, I chuckled when I saw the seedlings of the Queensland bottle tree. Not because the seedlings were that small in absolute terms, but because a mature tree is so big. Even though the specimen at RBG is impressive, it’s definitely smaller than the ones I saw in Australia, like this one at the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. But I was thrilled to see a plant this exotic offered for sale, together with quite a few other Australian natives, like various grevillea hybrids.

Queensland bottle tree (Brachychiton rupestris). The ones I saw in Australia were among the most impressive trees I’d ever seen. The mature specimen at Ruth Bancroft Garden (shown on the plant tag on the right) is pretty spectacular, too. This is a very slow growing tree so I imagine these seedlings must be several years old already.

Ruth’s Folly, the green gazebo at the garden entrance, was full of echeverias, aeoniums, haworthias, and other smaller succulents as well as different succulent bowls that I thought were not only beautiful but also reasonably priced. Take a look at the next three photos—an instant succulent landscape in a pot! I think these would make great gifts.


The last photo I want to show you today might surprise you. A pond in the middle of a succulent garden? While it may seem like a contradiction, it actually emphasizes the xeric nature of the surrounding environment, much like an oasis does in the desert. I think it’s a beautiful, serene spot to sit and relax—and an appropriate backdrop for the tropical plants that were for sale, like the cannas on the left.

Pond in the middle of the Ruth Bancroft Garden

After I had picked out the plants I wanted to buy, I walked around the garden with my camera and took quite a few photos. Check back in a day or two for a separate post.

For earlier posts about Ruth Bancroft Garden click here: 1 2 3 4.

Friday, October 7, 2011

First rain of the season

The first rain of the season is a hotly anticipated event by most gardeners in our area. After four or five months of sunny skies and zero precipitation, we thirst for a good drenching that washes away the dust and dirt and allows us to turn off the sprinklers and drip irrigation.

This year’s first rain arrived about two weeks early according to the weather experts, but we take what we can get. The heavy downpours forecast in the news didn’t happen. What we got is a gentle and at times steady rain, but I much prefer that anyway. Sunny weather will return starting tomorrow, so I thought I’d take a few snaps of and in the rain before it goes away again.

Our flagstone walkway looks so much better when it’s wet. The color really comes out.
Dramatic miniature rainscape on a patio table. Reminds me a little of the aerial shots of the Sacramento Valley rice fields I took in the summer.
Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) and Eldorado grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Eldorado')
Texas tuberose (Manfreda maculosa) and blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue')
Golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa)
Dwarf Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata cv. 'Dwarf Cavendish’). The white dots are rain drops illuminated by the camera flash.
Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’
Yucca recurvifolia ‘Margaritaville’
Echeveria subsessilis
Echeveria subsessilis closeup. The raindrop looks like a precious gemstone.
Aeonium ‘Catlin Hybrid’
Some of my potted cacti in the pouring rain. Soon I’ll have to rig up a rain cover for them so they’ll stay dry during the winter.

Just as I was getting ready to submit this post, we had a minor gully washer, giving me the chance to take some photos from inside the house. I love the painterly effect shooting through wet windows produces. Makes me appreciate having a dry place when it’s pouring outside.

Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) across the street
Dixieland grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland’) in our front yard
Baby blue bamboo (Bambusa chungii ‘Barbellata’) in front of our house

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bashful mimosa

At the most recent UC Davis Arboretum plant sale, I finally found a specimen of a plant I’d wanted for as long as I can remember: Mimosa pudica, commonly called “sensitive plant,” “humble plant,” “shameful plant,” or “touch-me-not.”

I can’t remember where I first saw one, but many botanical gardens have specimens they allow visitors to interact with. Kids—young and old—are drawn to them like moths to a streetlight. If you’ve never experienced a sensitive plant, you probably wonder why it’s so special. Take a look at the animation below which I found on Wikipedia:

Image source: Wikipedia

Yep, you touch a leaf, and it folds up as if by magic. This action is called “seismonastic movement,” and it has to do with a loss of turgor pressure in certain cell regions. If “turgor pressure” is up your alley, you can read more about it here.

There are various hypotheses as to why Mimosa pudica does this; the one that makes the most sense to me is that it alters the shape of its leaves to confuse herbivores who might pass it by in favor of a plant with more normal-looking leaves. Whatever the reason, it’s fun to poke a leaf and watch it get going.

When I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I got a mimosa, she thought I was talking about the mimosa or silk tree (Albizia julibrissin). This popular (and relatively hardy) tree is indeed a distant relative and has similar leaves. Like Mimosa pudica, its leaves close at night (a phenomenon called “nyctinastic movement”), but unlike Mimosa pudica, they don’t fold up when touched (the aforementioned “seismonastic movement”). I hope you’ve committed these terms to memory because there will be a quiz tomorrow!!!

Mimosa pudica is not only sensitive when it comes to its leaves, it’s also sensitive in terms of the weather. This South and Central American perennial is extremely tender; it appears to dislike temperatures much below 55°F and definitely needs to be brought inside in the winter. Together with the Socotran cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotrana) I also bought at the Arboretum sale, it will be a houseplant living in my home office.

My weird and wonderful mimosa
Hairy and thorny to boot!
Bipinnate leaves…
…are attractive…
….and tropical-looking
Same leaf as above in the midst of a seismonastic movement
(that’s “folding up” to you and me)
Puffy flowers are an added bonus
All in all, a neat package…
…I find hard to resist